Q: I hope that you can help unravel a problem regarding two tickets from Denver to West Palm Beach, Fla., which I recently purchased through Expedia for my daughter and her boyfriend.
When the two of them arrived at Denver International Airport, they were informed by the ticket agent that Expedia had not paid for the tickets and that they could not board the plane.
In a panic, my daughter called me on her cell phone and I suggested that she put the agent on the telephone so that I could speak with her. The agent explained the problem to me and I said – not so calmly – that the two of them were traveling to South Florida for a Passover Seder the next day and that I expected them to be on the plane. She informed me that she would have to charge me again for the tickets. I said to do so but that I wouldn’t pay for the tickets twice.
To make a long story short, my daughter and her friend made it to Florida for the Seder, we were charged twice, were told by the airlines that it was not our fault but have been unable to unravel the whole mess with MasterCard. If you can’t help, I think I’ll have to seek a Higher Authority.
— Rabbi Stephen H. Pinsky
A: The way the airlines run their businesses, I’m amazed that more passengers don’t appeal their cases to a Higher Authority.
Your daughter and her friend were caught in an unfortunate set of circumstances that they couldn’t have anticipated, and it was made worse by the fact that they had to be in Florida in time for the Seder. Waiting for Expedia to sort this out with the airline wasn’t an option.
Airlines are quick to take your money and slow to return it. This is a prime example. The carrier essentially double-billed your daughter, and now it’s not giving anything back. It’s standard operating procedure. Given the choice between a refund and no refund, an airline will always choose no refund. If it has to give you something, it will choose flight vouchers (or “funny money” as they like to call it). It will always take its time.
Fortunately, you booked your tickets through Expedia, which doesn’t share the airlines’ “less is more” attitude. A company representative apologized for the way your refund was handled and promised to look into the case.
According to the agency, Expedia sent the ticket information to Northwest Airlines and followed the correct ticketing procedures. “Since the flight was ticketed and charged by Northwest but operated by Continental it was the responsibility of Northwest Airlines to send the ticketing information to Continental Airlines,” the representative explained. “By sending the information to Continental, Northwest confirms that tickets were purchased and money was paid. Regrettably, Northwest neglected to send the original flight information to Continental Airlines, which resulted in there never being a reservation created in Continental Airlines’ system for Northwest’s sale of the flights.”
Regrettably, indeed. Now that’s what you call code-sharing at its finest.
How could you have prevented this from happening? By calling the airline to make sure you actually had a reservation, probably. Continental would have confirmed your lack of a reservation and allowed you to make alternate plans. I always recommend that you call the carrier a day before your flight leaves just to be sure everything is lined up. Although your agency wasn’t responsible for the miscommunication, it should have had a mechanism in place to verify your reservation and notify you if there was a problem. To that extent, Expedia was to blame.
Expedia contacted Northwest Airlines and is processing your refund as I write this. I believe you would have eventually gotten a refund, but it might have taken longer unless I’d stepped in. That’s reassuring, because it means the system isn’t broken – just excruciatingly slow.